Montessori Dream in Morocco

For my third trip to Morocco I was honored to have a part in the first AMI Primary course to be given in this part of the world. This is something that I have dreamed about for years, to be part of Montessori teacher training for children from age 2.5 to 6 where I could share what I learned in my very first course at The Maria Montessori Institute (MMI: See more here Montessori ) in London, England almost 50 years ago. I wanted to do this in a place where I can be 100% behind the efforts of the people who are bringing AMI Montessori to their country. Morocco is this place. A dream come true.

1 atlas trip

On the first day the students, the director of Training Lhamo Pemba, and I were hosted at the home of the parents of Aicha Sajid for a delicious traditional French-Moroccan breakfast and then we headed south for 4 days to experience some of this ancient civilization before we settled down to work. This trip was a generous gift of our hosts and none of us will forget it—the wild argon trees with goats climbing to reach the leaves, the walls of ancient cities, the art, the food, the beauty, and the music. It was a unique and valuable beginning of a course as we were able to spend precious time getting to know each other and hearing the variety of stories about what brought each of us together in this place and time, sharing the belief that it is through gentle support of the potential of the very youngest that there is a chance to reveal the very best in humans, for the sake of these individuals and with hope for the future of the world.

2 trip students

The students came from several countries, Australia, China, Mongolia, Congo, Martinique, Morocco, and the United States, all to receive this Montessori teacher training.

3 my room and garden

Because it is almost time for Ramadan, the 40-day fast that is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, my hosts parents invited me to stay in a room in their beautiful garden so I could join the family each night for Iftar or the breaking of the fast. Here is a picture of the garden and my room.

4 ramadan

During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God. I joined in the fast; but for me not eating anything between sunrise and sunset was just a small reminder of how it must feel for so many people in the world today who actually experience hunger every day of their lives. And I was one of the fortunate, having a delicious meal to look forward to each day after sunset. The experience was confusing, thought-provoking, and valuable. I am still processing it.

For more about Ramadan click here: Ramadan

Each night some of the members of the extended family and I gathered at around 7:30 PM (the time changing a few minutes each night) to await the evening call to prayer heard from several directions of the city, only then beginning to eat.

The meal began the same every night. One soft-boiled egg sprinkled with salt and cumin, dates and nuts (both delicious in Morocco), and special honey and sesame seed sweets served only at this time of the year. A soup accompanied these, usually the traditional “Harira” made of lentils and chickpeas, spices, and vegetables and meat. The family very graciously always provided vegetarian versions of the soup and everything else just for me.

The second course is “salad” which is a broad term to cover a variety of delicious vegetable dishes, little meat or vegetable pastries, and sometimes fish.

The third course is the famous “tagine” which refers to both the mean/vegetable dish and the special pot it is slowly cooked in over hot coals. Click: Tagine

5 beautiful homes

Sometimes the meal was served in the home of a relative so because of Ramadan, and being invited to tea, I was able to see some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen in my life. Here you can see the mural on the wall of a woman who loves India, and the hand-painted ceiling of the grand dame of the family.

6 watercolor study

I was little worried about leaving my considerable work at home to be in Morocco for almost three months so I took along a very tiny watercolor set and two small watercolor blocks. Stealing moments from the 24/7 work on the course I finally was able to do a “study” of a piece of art a friend had shared with me that I had stored on my computer. She had photographed the original, a little known work created by the Japanese artist Tsuguhara Foujita, in Paris. It has been a long time since I worked in watercolor and ink and it was challenging and enjoyable.

Neyla is the daughter of my friend Aicha Sajid, who pulled all of this together, and I have gotten to know her and her brother Nacer very well since we traveled together on my first trip to Morocco. They and their friends often visited me after school to play music, read, sometimes work on math, or just talk about life. One day I asked Neyla to recite some of the prayers of the Koran she was learning. Here is a video of just a few of her words.

8 art neyla drawing

I think you can see why the experience inspired me to do a watercolor and ink drawing of her. I also painted one of her brother Nacer and gave them both to their grandparents as a thank you gift for hosting me. I think they are both on my facebook page “The Art of Susan Mayclin Stephenson”

9 physics

One of the subjects I lectured on during the course was physics. This has been a great love of mine, perhaps because of my physicist father who was interested in how everything works and, even many years ago, in non-coal based energy, including solar! I was thrilled to find that physics was part of the curriculum on my first Montessori training course in London in 1970. Because I loved this subject, so have all of my students over the years. And I hope also the students in the course in Morocco will learn to love it. It seems so in the picture above.

In this picture you see the first slide of a PowerPoint I prepared showing how the experience of physics begins early in life. The students in the picture come from a variety of backgrounds—a “Montessori Mama” separating sand and iron filings; Aicha (who studied computer science at Brown University the same years as our son Michael) and Leila, an artist, are completing the electric circuit; the student experimenting with a candle with limited air was a child advocate lawyer who realized that one must begin earlier in life to truly help children.
They all seem to be enjoying physics.

10 botany

Botany was another subjects of my lectures and the exploration of leaf shapes and attachments to a stem was rich indeed as I was able to deliver that lecture, followed by a long period of research by the students, in the lovely Sajid garden. The second picture here shows the excitement of two of the students when a few days later I discovered and took into class an example of “whorled” leaf attachment to the stem.

11 art day

Of course I was thrilled to be able to deliver the lecture on art, and to provide what was supposed to be a short art workshop but turned out to be a whole day. When lunch was announced none of the students even looked up from their work. And again at the end of the day no one was especially eager to stop creating and discovering. I had wanted them to see what it feels like to be deeply engrossed and concentrating on a project requiring the mind and the hands working together, moving in new ways with paper and scissors and glue and colored pencils and paint, combining them in an open-ended variety. The only requirement was that they use all of the materials (drawing, painting, print-making, cutting, gluing) and that they draw or paint at least one bird, and at least 5 flags.

This last requirement was to show the students that they can indeed draw and paint. Part of their “general knowledge” work back at home between the 2018 and 2019 blocks of the course will be filling in their knowledge gaps that we all have in preparation for working with children.

12 art framed for classroom

We all worked, under the direction of Lhamo, to create a beautiful primary class environment for the students to be able to carry out the many hours of practice on the materials in preparation for oral and written exams next year. An important part of a Montessori environment is art on the walls hung at the level of the child’s eyes. We had 10 frames and I was more than happy to fill some of them of images of my own art.

13 susan with desert

Twice we were treated by Aicha and her co-worked Leila Ouarrak Sfez, to a meal at an elegant French restaurant, “Le Relais de Paris”. When I ordered “profiteroles” the first time I was expecting one small one on a plate as the course of all meals are much smaller outside the USA. Imagine the shock when I was served a pile of profiteroles served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I was not the only one. And, yes, we had the same desert the second time, but ordered less food for the meal to save room.

14 hanane and hamza

As I think back on this experience I realize how fortunate I have been to be able to work with Lhamo, and to get to know a very special group of talented, hardworking and passionate women who are taking the Montessori course, the two women who are translating the course into French and Chinese, and the teachers and staff at Ecole Montessori Casablanca who helped us so much.

But I also now have other very dear friends in this part of the world, all from the home where I lived for two months.

Every year during Ramadan the king of Morocco invites scholars of Islam from around the world to deliver inspiring lectures on Islam. My host, Mohamed Sajid, as minister of culture for Morocco, is invited to attend. At each of these ten lectures the guests are presented with a beautiful piece of Arabic script in gold lettering to memorialize each of the talks. Mohamed kindly presented me with several of these documents. An American-Moroccan scholar from the University of Chicago delivered the lecture commemorated here.

I often shared meals with Mohamed’s wife, my dear friend Hanane, a Medical doctor who works as a volunteer for whomever needs her, and her son the artist Hamza. They taught me much about their country and their lives. And I now know more about soccer and the World Cup than I ever though possible.

Never will I forget this family and all of the others who contributed to my wonderful stay in Casablanca, Omar, Latifa, and especially Medeni and Hakima who never gave up trying to teach me Arabic and Berber!

15 culture book cover art

When I realized that the work load for the course (as I was writing and delivering lectures along with all of the regular course assistant work) left me no time for my regular work as a Montessori consultant, writer, and a multitude of other tasks I work on when at home, so I was forced to finish my lectures in a little over two months and return to California.

But this experience convinced me of the value of the Montessori primary culture work that were the basis of my lectures—physics, botany, zoology, geography, history, music, and art. Over the last 50 years I have shared this information in many countries, speaking and writing. And often I have been asked to write a book on the subject. So now it is official.

Hopefully in the next year there will be a book with the picture above on the cover. This painting of my youngest grandchild examining a flower with a magnifying glass is not yet finished, but I think it captures the essence of the projected book. Stay tuned . . .

16 art page image

Finally some of my prints and paintings are now available to purchase via the Internet. I updated this page before leaving for Morocco but only recently posted it. You can see more at this link: Susan’s art

17 romanian jc translation small

Just as I was gathering photos (I wish I could have posted 100!) for this blog post, news arrived that the translation of The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three will soon be available in the Romanian language so I might be back in that hemisphere of the planet earth sooner than I thought for a book signing.

Take care,
Susan

Turkish Sufi Performance, Fes (Fez), Morocco

Turkish Sufi Performance Oil Painting Finished!

While working as a Montessori consultant in Morocco in the spring of 2015, I was fortunate to be present at a Performance of Sufi dancers and singers from Turkey. I was captured by the intense expressions of the men, especially the singers. It was this experience that inspired this painting.

1 painting

Here is a photograph of the whole performance. You can see the singers from the painting in the lower right hand corner.

2 concert total

Below is an i-phone short video. As you watch the passion of the dancers and singers I think you will understand the inspiration for this painting. The painting has been sold as a result of this blog post. Since more than one person wanted it and there is of course only one original oil painting I am having giclees on canvas made. If you are interested in this let me know.


More of Morocco

Just in case this little “art” blog post has whetted your appetite to see more of this amazing trip, here are a few more photos. First of all, I spent several days consulting at a wonderful school in Morocco, Ecole Montessori Casablanca. Here is a link to their website and I highly recommend anyone to visit: http://www.montessoricasablanca.com/

4 susan and children

Above is a picture of me with the children of the owners of this school. Since I always want to learn everything I can about a country in order to be a good consultant I was invited to join the family for a week of school vacation exploring their culture throughout the country. Here we are sitting on the edge of a fountain in a “riad” (traditional house) in the “medina” (old city) of Fez.

6 teapots

We explored the medina for hours. Here is a little shop where I found a traditional tea-pot to bring home. The cook at the Montessori school taught me how to make proper Moroccan mint tea. I have found the correct mint at the farmer’s market here in California, and am practicing?

6a tea proper

What, practicing you say? Yes, it is not that simple. After boiling the tea, sugar, mint for the proper time, as it is poured into the glasses, the teapot is gradually raised to a height of up to 2 feet, aerating and flavoring the tea. In this picture tea is being poured for us at a school for poor mountain children as the family and I accompany the volunteer eye-doctors for their annual volunteer work, and tell them about Montessori.

8 pottery

The beautiful traditional arts of Morocco are being kept alive and passed on the next generation. Pottery, mosaics, metal work, carpets. Above is a workshop/school in Fez.


Montessori Research in Morocco

7 child's hands

As always, I am constantly exploring the way young children are treated, cared for, and educated – in homes, schools, in the market, on the street. This child is being carried on her mother’s back, but given something to explore with her hand when she tires of the amazing visual exploration of the market!

9 door

And as you can see, there is plenty to explore visually!

10 food eating on floor

The traditional way of sitting on the floor to eat, here and many places where I work, is very good for young children because they can join the adults at a very early age and it gives the child just what he wants, practice in using his hands to serve himself.

It is so nice to be in places where no one would dream of watching TV, texting, talking on a phone, or reading during a meal. Because of this a meal is truly a social event, relaxing, and comforting. It really seemed to me that when the conversation was about the food, every bite tasted better. It inspired a meal I later had with our grandchildren where we talked about how many people, how much work, went into the production and transportation of each item at the table. It was a true “mindfulness” practice, just like a Montessori study of the inter-relatedness of everything.

Also, just as in a Montessori class the food is placed in serving dishes – not on individual plates.  This way each person, even the youngest child, is free to take what, and how much, his body wants or needs. This is so much better than being given a plate full of food that someone else has prepared; someone else deciding what and how much a person should eat at any one meal. Who but each of us knows, with internal guidance, what and how much to eat.

Not only does a child feel good to have his choice of what and to much respected, but he learns, at an early age, how not to waste food.  All of us then can take just a small amount and when that is finished to take more if we are really hungry. This is just another Montessori home/school principle with historical/cultural roots.


Moroccan Food is world famous – Who knew?

10 food western

Of course the exception is eating in restaurants – and one can find the most delicious meals everywhere in this country. The first thing I did when returning home was to order a Moroccan cookbook with beautiful pictures. I had no idea that Moroccan cooking was so world-famous!

11 susan and camel

Guess who?


Ecole Montessori Casablanca

13 ecole montessori casablanca

Here is the school where I helped out. Children, from Montessori infant community through elementary (6-12) classes, learn in English, French, and Arabic. There are families from all over the world, all religions, all cultures, all welcome. The school is growing and becoming a model Montessori school for the country, indeed for this part of the world. While I was there we began a Montessori program for children from birth-3 in a local orphanage. I will post about this later.

In January, 2016 there will be an opening for an AMI Montessori teacher at the 3-6 level and maybe the 6-12 level. Here is the contact information. Please share this blog post with any AMI teacher you know who is ready for an amazing experience.


http://www.montessoricasablanca.com/#!contact/con8


In God’s Name – Hope through the Children

In this video clip that I took in the Fez medina you can hear one of the daily five “calls to prayer”. Sometimes it is hard to come home and hear all the “anti-other” religious views on the main-stream media. Every religion has its crazies (remember the Spanish Inquisition? the partition of India struggles? the church bombings in the USA?).

Every religion and philosophy also has its saints, and those of us who are just inspired to do better each day because of spiritual models. While in Morocco I was surrounded by people who respect all religions and focus on  being better people and helping the poor. People like this, for whom religion is their inspiration and hope, and their path to help society and the world, exist in all countries.

I am going to end this blog post with a song that brings tears to my eyes. Not because it is sung by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, and Nash – one of my favorite music groups. (if you cannot see it here, go to youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSKjOBvybxw )

I am sharing it because the song “In Your Name” expresses something I think about all the time. Something that gives meaning to the overriding principle of my life. That it is the idea that it is only through the education of the very young that we can help the world to become a better place.

The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind. —Maria Montessori, MD


If you would like to receive my blog posts in the future should must sign up at the bottom of this page. If you are on Facebook you can see many more pictures from this Montessori travel and work, and my art, at these Facebook pages:

Susan Mayclin Stephenson
The Art of Susan Mayclin Stephenson
The Michael Olaf Montessori Company
The Joyful Child Montessori Company
Montessori Assistants to Infancy


Beauty in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Bangkok

SAN FRANCISCO

turner front of museum

No matter where I am headed for Montessori work, I take advantage of the opportunity to experience beauty. It sustains me. One of the greatest English painters of the 19th Century Joseph MW Turner is an inspiration for my painting and one of my oldest friends (fellow Montessori mother and teacher) and I viewed this exhibit of his work at the DeYoung in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

 

 

fog and animal 1

Just as in life, where we can only focus completely and well on only one thing at a time, the rest fading temporarily into the background, Turner’s paintings give us artists models. A welcome relief for our eyes and spirits. http://deyoung.famsf.org/

 


 

turner children

 

It was lovely to see a docent teaching children about Turner. I eavesdropped his interesting talk several times.

 

 

 

 


 

 

turner susan's commission parliament

In order to improve painting abilities in all ways I often do studies of great works of art, visiting them in a museum to see them first hand whenever possible, and then working from pictures.

Here is an example of a commissioned study I did of his “Burning of the Houses of parliament” for a family who owned the original, donated it to a museum in Cleveland, and wanted a memory. I worked with the museum to get the colors right, as there is always a lot of variety in reproductions.

Sometimes we think that a more “abstract” painting will be easier than a more life-like work, but it is just the opposite. This is the most difficult study I have ever undertaken.


BERKELEY

chez menu

Then on to lunch at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Alice Waters took the AMI Montessori teacher-training course the same place I did. https://www.mariamontessori.org/ And then moved out into the world combining education of children, protecting the environment, cooking, and beauty.

Here are Alice’s words:

I was 22 years old when I first trained to be a Montessori teacher, and Maria Montessori’s philosophy has remained vital to me all my life: Children learn best through experience. The senses are the pathways to our minds—and when a child’s senses are activated, knowledge floods in.

I had this interactive pedagogy in my heart when I started the Edible Schoolyard program, which creates organic gardens and kitchen-classrooms in urban public schools. When students come into the garden-classroom for their math class, they are measuring the vegetable beds—they are doing math by osmosis, effortlessly absorbing their lessons. This is the beauty of a sensory education—which is, at its core, a Montessori education: the way all the doors into your mind are thrown wide open at once.

chz susan with french posterFrom every direction as we sat at lunch I could see her sense of beauty and attention to detail, from the furniture, and art on the walls, and the food.

Here is the link to her foundation to the Edible Schoolyard, a n nationally recognized for its efforts to integrate gardening, cooking, and sharing school lunch into the core academic curriculum: http://www.chezpanissefoundation.org/

 

 

 


BANGKOK

Now I am in Bangkok, on the way to the 4th ESF (Educateurs san Frontieres) Assembly, which was begun to Renilde Montessori, the granddaughter or Dr. Maria Montessori, in 1999. You can read about the first three assemblies, and this one, which will be held for 2 weeks in Thailand, here: http://amiesf.org/

old thailand

Back to the subject of beauty. I was in Thailand for the first time in in 1964. The tallest buildings in Bangkok at that time were the temples and other Buddhist structures. Upon returning in 2002 on my way to the Tibetan Children’s’ Village in India, I was shocked and saddened by the modernization of the city. One looked down on these beautiful temples from a freeway over the city! But because we cannot stop progress (but we can help direct if in positive ways, especially through our children) I am learning to see beauty in the new world.

airportLate last night, after 20 hours of flying, counting stopover for 2 hours in Tokyo, I took this picture as I left the Suvarnabhami airport in Bangkok to take the shuttle to the hotel. I was exhausted and my mind was screaming “ugliness,” but my eyes are learning to focus on color and shape and light, and I found beauty for a moment even this modern structure. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

 

 

 


I have lived in both San Francisco and Berkeley, and have spent months helping with Montessori teacher training in Thailand—these are three beautiful place on our earth and I hope you have enjoyed the pictures.

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Look for another post from Thailand when there is time!